Becoming Johanna

She did whatever was necessary to be true to herself and thrive.
Year Released
Film Length(s)
27 mins
Closed captioning available Audio description available
Remote video URL


When Johanna, a 16-year-old transgender Latina, begins her transition and gets kicked out of her home and school, she finds a foster family who loves her and a supportive school principal who helps her graduate and thrive.

Featured review

***This sympathetic documentary shows how much of a difference mentors can make in the lives of transgender youth. Recommended.
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How does it feel when your mom prays everyday for you to be someone else? That’s the struggle Johanna, a 16 year old transgender Latina faces. At first her mom thinks she’s confused, or joking, but as Johanna’s transformation continues, her mom simply can’t handle the fact that her son is Becoming Johanna.

After prayer doesn’t change anything, Johanna’s mom tries therapists and a mental hospital in her quest to “fix” her daughters gender identity. While she was born a boy, Johanna is a young woman on the inside and nothing but living a lie can change that.

Becoming Johanna is a compelling story that follows the struggles transgender teens face every day. In the end, Johanna refuses to let her mother’s rejection define her life and she continues the journey toward becoming comfortable in her own skin. Johanna’s story is as beautiful as she is, and will leave you hopeful that we can build communities that accept all of our children just the way they are.

Becoming Johanna is one of four films in the Youth & Gender Media Project, which together demonstrate how to reach every member of a school community—students, teachers, parents and administrators—to help them create educational settings that welcome all young people, regardless of the where they fall on the spectrum of gender identity and expression. Film contains mature language.

Purchase all four films for the price of three at:


Becoming Johanna is a must-see for anyone wanting to understand what it means to grow up trans. We screened the film at Oxnard College and were honored to have Jonathan, the director and Johanna, the main character, join us. It was an unforgettable experience for our community. Johanna gave us clear-eyed lessons of courage and strength. We were left uplifted and hopeful. The evening was a true celebration of the human spirit.
Dr. Amy Edwards
Communication Studies & Director of OC LIVE
Becoming Johanna allowed our students to build empathy. As a result, they were able to make real life connections and were motivated to act in ways which were more inclusive and affirming to LGBT+ identities.
Flora Ruli
Graduate Coordinator of LGBTQIA+ and Inclusion Programs, Rowan University
Becoming Johanna takes us on a remarkable journey of adolescent identity development that is both familiar and totally new. Johanna's struggle to be understood and accepted by the parents and teachers in her life has universal resonance, yet as a transgender young woman coming of age, Johanna fights for her literal existence. Jonathan Skurnik's film is a timely resource for high school and college teachers looking for ways to illuminate and ground critical 21st century examinations of gender, family and community.
Jennifer Bryan
Ph.D., Gender and Sexuality Educator

Awards and Screenings

Audience Award, Louisville LGBT Film Festival, 2016
Frameline Film Festival, 2016
EAU Queer Film Festival, 2016
Global Public Health Film Festival, 2016

Director Commentary

I was a gender nonconforming child who loved to play with both dollhouses and Hot Wheels, wear pants and dresses. Like any child, I wanted it all! Around second grade, I started to get teased and bullied for my “sissy” ways and decided to give up “girly” things in order to evade the harassment that I intuitively knew would only get worse as I grew older. But this also meant that I abandoned an important part of myself.

In the early 2000s I began to read about children who were gender creative and transgender and were living in communities that supported them. These children and their families were doing what my community hadn’t been able to do when I was a child. As a social change filmmaker, I wanted to document and help grow the movement that embraces rather than suppresses children with gender expansive identities.

In 2007, I began work on a film that eventually turned into the Youth and Gender Media Project, a series of short films about gender expansive young people and their families and communities. I’m happy to say that the films have screened in festivals around the world and are being used in hundreds of middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout North America to help make the world safe for youth of any and all manifestations of gender identity and expression.

I first met Johanna at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital when she was participating in Bamby Salcedo’s transgender youth clinic. Bamby, a fierce transgender leader, had overcome her own demons in order to support the troubled trans youth of color in her beloved city. When I asked Bamby which
 of her young clients’ stories could make a film that would build empathy and compassion for trans youth, she immediately suggested Johanna, the youngest member of her clinic. In her own way, Johanna was as fierce as Bamby, and I suspect that Bamby hoped that the spotlight of a film might convince Johanna that her life story of courage and determination would inspire other trans and gender expansive youth to be true to themselves. And this is exactly what has happened. Now Johanna and I screen the film for young people who inevitably come away with renewed hope.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Audio Description
  • Closed Captioning
  • Transcript
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • Spanish

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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